From Birth to Alexander to After the Sunset
- Raymond Lo () - December 12, 2004 - 12:00am
• Alexander

Oliver Stone has been bludgeoned and speared by critics over what they say is a colossal failure his film Alexander has been. Another critic even likened it to a B-movie. Ugh, that hurts.

It hurts because this film is somewhat a remarkable achievement. Its scope is epic. The photography, set decoration, costume and music are way above your average films. Even the acting is uniformly good, especially Angelina Jolie’s deceiving Olympia and Colin Farrell’s headstrong yet insecure Alexander.

The major flaw is in the narrative. The lapses in editing is forgivable but difficult to overlook that it somehow distracts and gets in the way of cohesive storytelling. The film begins with Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins, whose brilliance is less evident in a weak role) retelling to his scribes Alexander’s exploits 40 years after his death.

Much of what is in the story has already been told in world history textbooks. Oliver Stone however, takes an extra route and delves into the psyche of the legendary conqueror and presents him as a human being: his dreams of conquering the world; his bitter relationship with his parents, and, the most controversial, his bisexuality.

Stone’s attempt to capture all these aspects of Alexander’s life and merge it along with his victorious campaigns against the Persian Empire and later on the warriors of India end up complicated and confusing. It did not help either that Ptolemy would segue into the story and just blurt out condensed events significant to the next scene that the movie would jump into.

The film is not as a big a failure as Troy was. While Troy was made to be commercially accessible and failed; Alexander has all the marks of a great Oliver Stone film. It was made with the director’s vision and he transformed it into a visually-ravishing work (the Hanging Gardens of Babylon is truly magnificent).

Much of the fuss about the film on the depiction of Alexander’s sexuality. To Stone’s credit, this alone is enough evidence that he is still very much his own man. The director kept his vision intact and presented the movie the way he wanted to present it. Eventually and perhaps unintentionally, it paralleled what Alexander did in his last campaign in India. As Alexander’s vision of conquering the East ended up in failure so has Oliver Stone’s effort to recapture his glory.

• After the Sunset

This is an action-caper designed to give a two-hour entertainment. And it delivers. Max, Lola and Stan form a triangle upon which the plot narrative goes around. (And all around it goes!)

Max (Pierce Brosnan) and Lola (Salma Hayek) are retired thieves enjoying the fruits of their labor in idyllic Bahamas. Stan (Woody Harrelson) shows up one day and baits Max to steal the last of the Napoleon Diamonds which, not surprisingly, was on display in a cruise ship docked for a week on the same island where the master thieves are setting up a home. Hmmm, at this point onwards, the movie goes on one predictable scenario after another. Most of the scenes feel like a setup designed to elicit laughs (they do).

Don Cheadle stars and is wasted as a local gang leader who commissions Max to steal the diamond for his "charity" work.

Visually, the movie is attractive. The Bahamas setting was used to full advantage in undressing Hayek at every conceivable scenario. The music is also lively (as is typical of a movie set in the tropics). Of the clichés in the movie, the most glaring and sometimes offensive is the depiction of the locals 1) as always having fun 2) whose police force is inept and 3) whose women, even those in the police force, are always gorgeous.

But the movie is fun. The climax is not entirely something new but it still delivers excitement and a little thrill.

• The Incredibles and Bridget Jones

I watched The Incredibles and Bridget Jones on the same day. And boy, was it a blast!

The new Disney-Pixar animated picture The Incredibles is the story about a family of retired superheroes who must spring out from government-imposed retirement to save the world again from the fake superhero’s evil threats.

Holly Hunter and Craig T. Nelson provide voices to Elastic Girl and Mr. Incredible respectively. The animation is at par with Pixar’s best and the storytelling is leisurely and enjoyable.

Some critics have compared the retired superheroes’ fate to the current social norm heavily dependent on litigation. The superheroes were once a mighty group of law enforcers forced to retire when most of the people they saved felt "victimized" by the obtrusive nature of their heroic acts and started suing them. Funny it seems but it happens in everyday life now. In the end though, when people get to see the stuff these real superheroes are made of, they are again exalted in public.

But lingering thoughts take us back to the time when they were unceremoniously retired. There is fear as to when the public’s euphoria over their exploits will last and how they will be forced into seclusion again.

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason stars Renee Zellweger as Bridget who returns to regale us again with her tale of love that doesn’t end happily ever after or so it seems when applied to her overly neurotic personality.

Zellweger sizzles in another great performance. She is again supported by Colin Firth as the conservative, reserved Marc Darcy and Hugh Grant who is back as Bridget’s dashing and playboy ex Daniel Cleaver. He hase changed for the better and shuns casual sex.

It is eight weeks into Bridget’s relationship with Darcy when she stumbles on her first great rival, the long-legged, svelte lawyer Rebecca.

Typical of Bridget, she rushes to her friends for advice and ends up getting more confused and unreasonably jealous. She breaks up with Darcy and goes to Thailand with Cleaver. In Thailand, they meet a stranger who introduces Bridget to the illicit joy of narcotics. She was almost tempted to get into bed with Cleaver until a "room service" interrupted the interlude.

Bridget is caught trying to smuggle drugs out of Thailand. The package she innocently carried for her friend turned out to have drugs inside. She gets imprisoned but is once again rescued by Darcy.

Bridget realizes her jealousy was not only unfounded but funny. When confronted, Rebecca confesses to Bridget that she was indeed in love but not with Darcy. Hmmm… Who could she be in love with?

And so the movie ends happily again until Bridget’s next neurosis resurfaces one more time and unnecessarily wreaks havoc on her romance with Darcy.

There are a lot of funny scenes in the movie but what makes it different from the first is its attempt to further show the audience the special character that Bridget Jones is.

She easily makes friends with the inmates in the Thailand prison scenes. She teaches them how to sing Madonna’s Like a Virgin properly and relates their love problems with hers (she is forced to make stories up because she realizes Darcy has been very good to her all along.)

Bridget may not be perfect, but, as portrayed by Zellweger, she comes off lovable and endearing. She doesn’t know how much she is loved. In the scene where Darcy and Cleaver are fighting, the audience later realizes that Darcy is in fact jealous and only wants to be assured that nothing happened between Cleaver and Bridget in Thailand. If Bridget was present during this fight, she would have cheered on whoever was the victor! Lovely.

• Birth

Nicole Kidman is mesmerizing in a three-minute close-up where all that is seen is her changing expression from anger,disbelief, acceptance and ultimately, grief.

Birth is a story about love. It’s about love that comes once in people’s lives and, when lost, how they cling to it like a child desperate to see his/her toys at home after the first day in school. You just yearn to feel it one last time. Sometimes, the grief that manifests itself cannot equal the heavy burden one carries deep in his/her heart. It just gnaws on you and you are almost held captive.

Birth is about Anna, a long-suffering widow who, after 10 years of grieving over her dead husband Sean finally manages to let go and is set to marry Joseph.

It is about Sean, a 10-year old boy who breaks into Anna’s life, proclaiming that he is her reincarnated husband.

The film is appropriately paced for its theme. All the actors do well, particulary Kidman and the young boy who portrays Sean, Cameron Bright.

To dwell on the story is to break the element of surprise the writer and director so skillfully injected into the film without making the audience feel betrayed.

Anne Heche co-stars in a pivotal role and provides the truth that is not entirely shocking or surprising near the end. It is, however, painfully heartbreaking.

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